January 25, 2015

Oh Yeah! A blended beer of rye porter and old ale

Early in 2014 I posted recipes for two beers I specifically brewed with the intent of blending. These beers were Blacula, a rye porter, and Old King Clancy, an old ale. Blacula was brewed in very early March this year and aged on some Canadian whisky that had itself aged on some oak. Old King Clancy was brewed mid-January and aged on Maker's Mark that also had aged on oak. Both liquors went into the beer with an overwhelming oaky flavor and so much tannin it almost hurt your tongue to taste it. I wanted these liquors to simulate barrel aging (and I have planned to talk about my collection of liquors and wines on oak for some time but I want to bottle and taste a few beers using the collection before announcing it a failure or success). Originally I had planned on aging these beers for a year or so before blending but I needed the fermentor space with all the small batches of beers going right now and the portion of the lambic solera I peeled off for later blending. The bottles will age for a couple months before tasting so overall the beer will be about a year old before I crack them open.

My concept for this blended beer would be to create a malty beer with all of the smooth malt notes of an old ale, with subtle sherry-like oxidation, with the more assertive flavors of a rye porter to create a beer that cannot exist on its own as a single beer. The darker malts in a porter have an anti-oxidant effect that prevents those nice fruity oxidation notes in an aged barleywine or old ale. So by combining the beers I can get the best of both worlds. Both of these beers are malt bombs and adding whisky would only bring in more malt flavors. The spicy rye character really helps cut some of that sweetness. So although the beer is undeniably sweet, it isn't meant to be cloying.

To blend the beer I first tasted each component and then worked out a blend. Only having a gallon of each beer meant I had little room to pull samples so I did most of the blending work in my head rather than pouring and mixing samples. Old King Clancy had a candy sweet flavor with a subtle bourbon note. The oats helped keep the beer from being too thin. Blacula had all the great flavors of an aged porter with chocolate, coffee, cocoa, and some nice fruity flavors. The rye was apparent in flavor and mouthfeel. The whisky was subtle but present. I mixed equal portions of each and liked the blend at an even ratio that as I thought through the balance of flavors I couldn't think of a blend I preferred. The 50/50 split tasted exactly like what I envisioned back at the beginning of the year. So I went ahead and bottled all the precious beer I could lift from the fermentors. Ultimately I ended up with a blend that was approximately 55% Blacula 45% Old King Clancy.

When I tasted a sample off the bottling bucket my first thought was, "OH YEAH!" like the Kool-Aid Man so that became the name of the beer. Plus the Kool-Aid Man is awesome.

I try to be honestly critical of my beers but I'm really happy with where this is right now. It is a really thick beer so I'm interested to see how carbonation will treat the mouthfeel. It's the first beer I've brewed that I would call chewy. I'm stoked to see how it turns out after it melds for a couple months in the bottle. I find some aging is necessary when blending beers to really get the flavors to come together and marry into a single flavor profile.
January 19, 2015

Spontaneous Fermentation Project Part 14 -- 1 Year

This beer is a year old and admittedly I am quite surprised by how disaffected the beer has been by its coolshipped band of yeast and bacteria. Given how quickly an infection can take over a clean beer, I expected to see a lot of activity over the past year and I was encouraged in this belief by the early activity that was almost as vigorous as any beer I had pitched a sour blend into. However, after a couple months of activity I have been left with a relatively clear beer with no pellicle and these weird, hard floating discs of yeast. No brett funk and definitely no sourness. It's frustrating but it seems in line with many of the results of other people who have attempted to coolship beers, although I seem to be the only one fortunate enough to experience these floating piles of yeast. Sometimes I want to just throw in some dregs of some sour beers and bottle it in another year but I am trying to stay committed to seeing where this goes.

I believe part of what has left this beer in its current state is my coolship method. I believe leaving the beer out in multiple vessels in an extremely cold night made the beer cool too fast to pick up a healthy volume of fermenting organisms and I ended up creating conditions that favored development of sugar-consuming yeast over lactic acid bacteria. Jean Van Roy, the owner of Cantillon, in the past discussed the importance of slowly cooling the beer through the right temperature range. My experience seems in line with his contention (although who am I to even suggest he is wrong?).

I also believe the lack of preexisting bacteria and yeast in the fermentor play a role. I subscribe to the premise that coolshipped beer relies heavily on the bacteria and yeast that has taken up residence in the oak barrels after years of brews, and coolshipping new wort serves mostly to replenish the yeast and bacteria that do the heavy lifting early in fermentation and then are eliminated as the alcohol content rises and the ph lowers. With this beer I do not have any preexisting organisms to draw from so everything I need has to grow out of whatever came into the fermentor with this wort. To the extent that I have brett, pediococcus and other late-stage fermentors, they are likely few in number and in need to time to build their numbers.

So although the beer is nowhere near ready for consumption, there is definitely continued activity going on. The sweetness of the beer is declining and the weird hefeweizen type tastes are developing more towards the funky end and there is some green apple in the finish. That could be acetyldehyde produced as an intermediary product of more ethanol production in the beer. At least that is what I hope it is. There is definitely something going on with the beer so that is at least something to appreciate about the beer, even if it is going down a path that will ultimately lead to a drain pour. The ph is reading around the mid 4 range so definitely no sourness going on.
January 17, 2015

Small Batch Mash Tun Redesign

My original small batch mash tun used a two gallon cooler with a grain bag to gain the convenience of BIAB with all the temperature regulation of a cooler mash tun. While I have been reasonably happy with the design from a temperature regulation vantage point, I have been dissatisfied with the  volume of trub ending up in the fermentation vessel after the boil. I know this is a problem across the board with BIAB and for a larger fermentation vessel it isn't a problem. Using five liter jugs as I do, space is at a premium to ensure sufficient headspace so I do not lose beer due to blowoff. So reducing the trub is an important goal.

To remedy this problem I have adopted a modification of the typical cooler design employing a toilet line braid that is located around the internet and the same design I have on my ten gallon cooler mash tun. It's an easy system with parts readily available at any big box hardware store and this particular design can be put together for about $7. I am sure more enterprising brewers could fashion a nicer set up but for my purposes this is sufficient to reduce the trub. If you are familiar with the typical design then  you know it is the stainless steel braided line for a toilet intake line attached to a ball valve where the original plastic spigot was. For this version I left the original spigot intact. On a larger cooler the hot runnings will heat up that plastic spigot to the point it is uncomfortable to hold open and you really don't want to have to sit and hold the spigot open for all that time. On the two gallon cooler the spigot opens by pulling away from the liquid so there is no concern about holding uncomfortably hot plastic and draining a mash tun of this size isn't much of a time concern.


  • 1/2" stainless steel pipe clamp screw fastener
  • 3/8" stainless steel pipe clamp screw fastener
  • 3/8" brass pipe plug (Watts LFA-737)
  • 3/8" toilet supply line (get the shortest one you can find)


  • Hacksaw
  • Standard screwdriver
  • Needle nose pliers
The first thing you want to do is take apart the spigot assembly on the cooler. It will be easier to attach the braid to the assembly that way. The assembly is easy to disassemble.

First unscrew the outside piece by turning it counterclockwise until it slides out.

Next do the same for the interior piece.

Third, reach inside the cooler and push out the middle piece of the assembly. It should slide right out.

Fourth, remove the gasket on the inside.

If you have used this cooler yourself you may find the pieces have some mold growth. Now is a good time to clean those parts. It is also good evidence that with these plastic and rubber pieces you need to disassemble the cooler like this and clean all the parts every brew or two.

Fifth, use a hack saw to cut off both ends of the toilet supple line. Discard the end pieces. If you did a rough job with the cuts you can clean it up with wire cutters, if you have some, or just leave it messy. Your beers won't care. Once you can the ends cut off, use needle nose pliers to remove the vinyl tubing inside. Discard this as well.

Sixth, insert the plug threaded side in to the braided line so the non-threaded end is exposed. Then use the 3/8" fastener to hold the plug in place. The plug keeps the end of the braid sealed so grain bits can't get through. It also helps weigh down the end so the braid doesn't float on top of the mash. (see the next two pics)

Here comes the fun part. Go ahead and slide the other fastener onto the braid and it slide all the way to the end with the plug. You need to make this 3/8" braid fit on the outside of this 1/2" spigot assembly. The braid needs to be stretched out. The easiest way to this is to insert the needle nose pliers in the braid and pull the handles away from each other. You need to do this quite a bit and rotate the braid so you get a larger hole. It need to fit on the outside of the second piece you removed from the spigot assembly. It is easiest to put the pliers all the way in and expand the braid and then move them out an inch, do the same and keep repeating until you are expanding the last inch of the braid. Eventually the braid will give up and the hole will expand. Force the braid onto the inner end of the spigot assembly and fasten it as tight as you can (without breaking the plastic) with the fastener. You may find the braid is sloppy after this work with some awkward holes. Roll the braid between your hands (or your fingers) to lengthen it and diminish the diameter, sort of like how as a kid you would roll out snakes out of playdoh.

Last, reassemble the spigot assembly. The middle piece with the male adapter slides in first from the outside. There are three notches on the outside of the cooler that need to line up with this piece. Then slide the washer back into place on the inside of the cooler. There is a small lip on the washer that faces towards the outside of the cooler. At this point don't worry about getting it lined up perfectly, just get it over the threads. Then screw in the outside piece. Now make sure the washer lines up correctly and seals the inside. Finally, screw in the last piece with your braid.

This took me about fifteen minutes, which included writing the blog while I was putting it together. It isn't magnificently attractive but it does the job and doesn't destroy the normal use of the cooler.